Nomura explores her roots through choreography, dance

Gabrielle Nomura, left, and Sierra Keith rehearse for “Beginnings.” (Photo by Sue Misao/NWAW)

By Alia Marsha
Northwest Asian Weekly

For its second season, the Seattle dance group Relay Dance Collective travels back to their roots as inspiration for “Beginnings,” featuring repertory works by 30 dancers and choreographers. Dancer and co-founder of the group Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura uses this opportunity to tell the story of her origins as a Japanese American through her piece “Farewell shikata ga nai.”

Both of Nomura’s great-grandparents were sent to internment camps. Her grandfather was even born in one. Nomura said that she has always known about this part of her family history, but it was not always easy to accept it. Choreographing the dance piece is one way of coming to terms with what happened to her family and the Japanese American community during the Japanese American incarceration in World War II.

Nomura grew up listening to her grandfather’s stories about the camps. These stories have inspired her so much that a recording of her grandfather’s Dharma messages will be played as part of the piece. Having these personal elements are also, however, what makes it challenging to put together this story.

“It’s hard putting yourself out there and trying to translate an idea that works on your body and put it on someone else’s body,” she said. “It just takes lots of guts and willingness to be bold and put yourself out there.”

For many, the stories of Japanese Americans are underrepresented in mainstream history resources. A lot of students have to settle for a tiny paragraph at the end of the World War II chapter of their textbooks. While Nomura’s piece intends to speak her mind about the subject as an artist, and educate and raise awareness about Japanese American history, it can be seen as an attempt to fill the gaps in mainstream sources of the history of Japanese Americans. As a fifth generation Japanese American who also identifies as hapa or mixed race — “I’m actually white, Japanese, and Filipino,” she said proudly — she feels comfortable talking about her family’s past.

“Many people in my generation are more willing to talk about it than our grandparents and our great-grandparents,” she said. “I think a lot of the reason they’re conflicted is because they were having a lot of pressure to assimilate and to let go of their ‘Asianness’ and ‘Japaneseness.’”

Nomura started taking dance seriously at age 4 with classical ballet before moving on to other styles of dance, such as modern and jazz. Although she thought about continuing her dance career in New York, she chose to stay close to home and family, attending Western Washington University to study journalism. Since then, she has been continuously switching gears between dancing and writing.

“I am and will always consider myself a dancer first,” she said. “I believe that I can do dance and journalism to the best of my ability. I don’t feel like either one has to be sacrificed.”

Nomura received grants for this project from the City of Seattle smART Ventures program and the Seattle Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, of which she is also a board member.

The 18-minute interdisciplinary piece will feature five dancers, two actors, a child actress, and Seattle Kokon Taiko led by Stanley Shikuma.

“Beginnings” will be performed at the Theater of Puget Sound from April 11 through April 13, the Cherry Blossom Festival on April 27, API Heritage Month on May 4, the Wing Luke Asian American Museum on June 27, and the 92nd Annual Japanese American Citizens League Banquet at Seattle University on March 21. (end)

Alia Marsha can be reached at

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